Saturday, 14 March 2009

National Thai Elephant Day... elephant and chips anyone?

The event, held annually on the 13th March, would have escaped my awareness completely if I hadn't noticed a news report, announced today by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), that they intended to microchip some of the estimated 200 street elephants used to beg from sympathetic tourists.

I don't know why this text and that above is underlined, nor do I know how to get rid of it.

Hiding out with their mahouts during the day on rubbish-filled wasteland, illegal elephants are made to plod the still hot tarmac of the city's tourist districts from early evening, enduring the pollution and traffic of Bangkok's urban jungle until the early hours. Begging street elephants in Bangkok suffer a miserable and dangerous existence.

It has not always been so, elephants have been valued for their strength and intelligence for millennia. In recent decades their power has been replaced by machinery in construction and transportation, but it was Thailand's ban on logging in 1989 that simultaneously put thousands of elephants out of work.

From being a valuable, revenue earning asset for many rural families, the elephant became a financially exhausting burden. With no state support, begging on city streets was seen as the only option by many mahouts. The lucky few received a licence for their beasts to perform to tourists, but the majority of elephants in the city are unregistered and unregulated.

The problem has grown with the city's indifference and failure to penalise lawbreakers. The cost of the miniscule fines handed out to mahouts can be earned back within a few minutes begging, so the offending illegals are sneaked back into the city often only hours after they have been removed.

Todays BMA's announcement that illegal pachyderms will be surveyed, chipped and transgressors returned to rural areas - with the assistance of the army and the State Railway Authority - might reduce the problem, but urban elephants are big business. A source quoted by today's The Nation said elephants' owners earned a combined Bt10 million a year by having the beasts beg in the streets, while mahouts received hundreds of thousands of baht. The source believes both national and local politicians benefit from the elephant problem.

Here a smiley little Chiang Mai guy was too much to resist for Lucy and mum Olwen, who ignored our pleas not to encourage the begging trade. Disobedient women have done much to add to the growth of elephant begging.


  1. Dom and I bought a brilliant porno lighter off one elephant guy at our bar on soi 5 Snkhumvit. Feel the shame.

    beach pics on the way day, its raining at the moment so not such good pictures


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